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Showing posts with label Food security. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Food security. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Climate change and its impacts on a religious epicenter!

The Ganges – the magnificent symbol of culture, fertility, prosperity and civilization, on whose banks has much of India grown, developed and prospered. This 2500 kilometer long river has the water that is considered sacred by the nearly 800 million Hindus that live around the world. Its origins: the largest glacier in the Himalayas – the gangothri.

The Gangothri glacier in the form of the Ganges forms the lifeline of Nepal, much of North India and entire Bangladesh. This mammoth river apart from being the lifeline of this region is an important constituent of India’s rich mythological history and culture. Now it’s a well-known and a much ignored fact that the Ganges today is polluted beyond repair. Let’s not get into that. But what we will discuss is the much bigger problem that may eventually shut down the entire Ganges! Can you imagine such a scenario? Scary isn't it?

The ever increasing global temperatures due to global warming have begun to take a toll on this holy glacier. Scientists from around the world first started studying this glacier and its behavior in the mid nineteenth century. Around the year 1960 it was observed that the glacier was shrinking at an alarming rate of 26 meters a year! But what shocked the scientific community is what came next – by the year 2006, the shrinkage rate was 800 meters a year!
Throughout the Himalayas more such glaciers are continuously melting. While this may have some short term benefits like an increase in the fresh water flow in the rivers, the long term impacts are often disastrous. For example, the continuous melting of the Himalayan glaciers has resulted in the formation of numerous small lakes. We are aware of the fact that climate change is increasing the global precipitation rates. Imagine a cloud burst on these small lakes.  Would we be seeing at an Uttarakhand part two?

The Himalayan glaciers and the Ganges are important religious and cultural centers of India. The Amaranth Yaatra which nearly 700,000 pilgrims undertake to witness and pray to Lord Shiva in the form of an Ice Shivalinga speaks marvels of the importance attached to these holy mountains and their ice.  However, the as per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report 2007, Himalayan glaciers are at risk of disappearing by the year 2035 if the Earth continues to warm at its current rate!
Imagine these glaciers disappear by 2035? Will there be an Amaranth Yaatra left? What about the Ganges and the fertile plains that it nourished all these years? What about the billion people depended on this water?

Wake up earthizen. Time is running out! Lord Shiva may have come down from the heavens to save us then! But why would he? We destroyed and ruined the very place where he explained the meaning of eternity? And that very place would cause our doom! What an irony!
True isn't it?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

7 billion & booming

The last Mogul Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar1 had lamented that he was so unfortunate as he didn’t even possess two yards of land for his burial. Well, this is when a person dies, but when alive how much space would he require? Or putting it in a different perspective, how many human beings can this Planet support?  Take a wild guess – did you say ‘sorry’?! That’s not a problem as no one, not even scientists have an accurate answer to this intriguing question.  In fact this has been a very delicate and tricky question to answer; many experts talk about it but avoid a concrete figure. Estimates range from 0.5, 2, and 12 to a whopping 42 billion! With reference to earth supporting 12 billion, calculation is simple – Earth has at present a total of 1.4 billion hectares of arable land (3.5 billion acres). The 3.5 billion acres would produce approximately 2 billion tons of grains annually. That's enough to feed 10 -12 billion vegetarians, said Wilson2, but would only feed 2.5 billion omnivores, because grains as much as 600 kg/yr has to be dedicated to livestock and poultry as in the United States. But this figure of 1.4 billion hectare is the total land available, one cannot survive only on food, they have many other necessities like air, water and many other things to survive. Thus, it is inappropriate to calculate number of people who can survive on Earth based on 1.4 billion hector of land.
One should remember that in nature, everything has a limit. The size of earth is limited, so is the amount of sun light reaching it. In a plant, size of plant, leaves and the ability of plant to absorb nutrients from environment and produce food for itself and other organisms around is also limited and so there has to be a limit to growth of human population as well as development.  This is not a new concept – it is being said right from the earliest times; we hear about it in Ishavasya Upanishad “"Om Isavasyam idam sarvam yat kin cha jagatyam jagat, tena tyaktena bhunjithah ma gridhah kasyasvid dhanam"”, meaning we should not try to crave and grow beyond limits3. If we do not listen to this advice and act accordingly it is like going against our own selves and committing suicide.
Unfortunately this ambiguity as to the number of people that earth can support prevails among the Scientists, Economists as well as Social workers and Thinkers. Many of them prefer to take shelter under Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quotation,5  “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed”,  – a well-meaning quotation, extrapolated wrongly, stating Earth can support any number of people if they are able to control their needs and of course  greed.  There are other groups, like Earlich2, Club of Rome6, 7, who on the other hand, discussed the subject in detail with the help of computer aided programs and had set a limit to growth as well as population at 6 billion, as early as 1969. But can Earth accommodate  12 billion people ?, or even 6 billion as suggested by Club of Rome6 ?  I am not willing to restrict myself to just a bowl of rice per day (200 kg/year), naturally it is not fair even to think that other humans should confine themselves to 200 kg of grain per year.  Besides, by now we learn the harsh truth that the people of developed countries are not willing to reduce their consumption rate, be it food or energy, so we cannot expect people of other countries to reduce their needs to bare minimum. Besides, living does not mean just food; we need a shelter, water, energy, roads, and entertainment and so on. Which means even at 6 billion as suggested by Club of Rome, we would require resources of three more Earths!

I think the confusion prevails because these calculations refrain from taking environment into consideration. Organisms and their environments are inseparably interrelated8 – and interact to maintain a dynamic balance of material and life cycle.  Without trying to explain the various complicated cycles which involve over 35 elements and their innumerable compounds – it suffices to say that life supporting materials recycle  between Abiotic (physical environment) and Biotic units (living beings). It is a gigantic cycle, involving thousands of tons of these materials.  For example Oxygen - animals’ breathe in and give out CO2, which the plants use to produce food and in the process actually split water using Solar energy to release Oxygen back to Environment. But life cycle is not simply limited to Oxygen and Carbon dioxide; there are other elements and compounds required in right proportion and at right time. Millions of organisms, apart from  plants and animals, help in circulation 35 elements and their innumerable compounds back and forth forming interrelated complex Biogeochemical cycles3. The organisms of this earth, whether microscopic or large, - like Bacteria or diatoms or big animals like Elephants or Whales - join hands to move these gigantic and complex Biogeochemical cycles without which  life will be impossible. Severn Cullis Suzuki9, the girl who silenced the World for 5 minutes, has summarized the idea beautifully by saying that ‘I am 13 million species strong’ . In other words, humans alone cannot live on this plant; they require the help of all the organisms. So we need to take them into consideration as well, in trying to estimate sustainable number of humans that Earth can support. Dr. Doug Hamilton10, person in charge of Astronauts and their requirements on Space Craft, runs lot of experiments to recycle materials. He states that “we find it hard to repeat recycling phenomena of Nature, so appreciate the Mother Nature”. 
(Banner specially created by Author for workshop to Save Western Ghats) 
Dr T V Ramachandra11 of CES, IISc Bangalore estimates that “Eco-services provided by the forests in Gundia river basin (700 hectors) is worth  Rs. 200 billion/year (with food and water security) while aiding the livelihood of ecosystem people”. We compete with other organisms of this planet forgetting that we are totally dependent on them

Environmentalist have been cautioning about these issues,  the concept of Ecological Foot printing (coined by Wackemagel12)  or the more  recent Carbon foot prints,  caution us as to the damage we are causing to the natural systems, and also suggest how to reduce the impact. While the concept of Embodied Energy tries to gauge ecological impact values for artifacts we use like Car, TV or Mobile phone right from resource stage to finished product and use of the same. All these concept need to be deliberated while calculating the size of population that Earth can support.  Phrases like ‘Sustainable growth’ are becoming popular, but growth means demand on resources, bigger the population more the demand, and thus the very concept of Sustainable growth is wrong – the two words are contradictory. The growth is always exponential- just like that for population, and growth cannot be sustained that too with ever growing of population.  Unfortunately the concept of sustainable growth itself is basically wrong – it is an oxymoron13,14. For example, Govt. in India is planning for 8.5% growth rate, which means the demand on resource will double in just 8.25 years. Demographers show that human population took more than 10,000 years to reach a size of 1 billion, but in the recent past it has taken just about 12 years to add a billion. Fortunately, recent UNESCO15 studies show that population growth rate is slowing, and may reach 1.5 % or less, even then by 2050 it is estimated that  population size would be  will  be  9 to 9.5 billion.

The growth is always exponential- just like that for population, and growth cannot be sustained that too with ever growing of population.

We cannot expect people to be satisfied only with 200 kg of food per year, they would all like to enjoy other food, the some modern gadgetry – we cannot deprive our fellow citizens from enjoying fruits of civilizations.  So we need to know how much space is required to provide such devices and then take all these aspects into consideration before we arrive at a sustainable steady state figure of human population.  
One may still argue that science would help us to grow more food as has happened some years ago. Industrialized countries tripled their produce through use of fertilizers and farm machinery.  Fertilizers as well as energy for farm machinery were derived from fossil fuels – but now the fossil fuels are peaking. In fact Albert Barlett13   dubs modern Agriculture as conversion of fossil fuels into food. Dr. Molly Brown16 of NASA scans the agricultural fields of the World through remote sensing techniques.  She states that world has to double the food production, to feed the ever growing population, but there is no more land available.  Besides, the agricultural production is leveling off. Some try to find solace in the fact that modern agricultural practices like Hydroponics  may bailout  the civilization’s food requirement,  forgetting that it is a highly energy intensive method and hence cannot be practiced on an extensive scale and produce food at low cost for the masses.
There are others who look at the fisheries17 for rescue. But the oceans which cover 70% of Earth is also getting polluted, and large trawlers fishing mindlessly in deeper and deeper waters,  fish nets extending several kilometers, cyanide fishing, use of explosives and pollution have upset the food chain of oceans. Aquaculture farming has in fact, worsened the situation further. Monoculture practices of such farms have resulted in diseased fishes and prawns escaping to the sea and spreading the disease to natural populations. In several areas the pollution has resulted in loss of coral reefs. On the other hand, practices like construction of Dams across rivers, have prevented free flow of nutrients from the mountains and forests to the sea. One well studies example is that of Aswan Dam and its effect on decline of fisheries on Mediterranean sea13. Mindless fishing and hunting are so rampant that voluntary organizations like Green peace18 were constrained to launch mega resistance movements to prevent Whales and other large mammals from being hunted.  
Bruce Sundquist’s19 study cautions us about another factor not considered so far. This important parameter is the life supporting top soil, the very foundation of good yield. From his studies extending for over a decade, he estimates that mind boggling 100 billion metric tons of top soil is getting washed down to sea and other sediments and this is about 5 times the amount of top soil nature produces. This loss coupled with excessive use of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation practices which increasing water logging and salinity has already resulted in  lowering  crop yield.  It is estimated that at the present rate of depletion, agricultural fields as well as grass lands (on account of over grazing) most of the top soil will be lost, rendering the agricultural fields almost barren in a couple of years.
In fact, the present day agriculture is not in doing well either. Modern agriculture, though displays high yield, has actually a negative energy balance, for we are using fertilizers and farm machinery which are again based on fossil fuels. Packing and transporting food, consume  lot of energy, it is estimated that to process 1 calorie  worth of food 10 calories are used in US10  and at times food is transported over 1500 km, which deprive local soils of their nutrients4.  Moreover,  in the recent past, farm community is attracted by ‘easy’ city life, and many a villages, at least in India, are becoming old age homes – it is estimated that soon 70% of populations will be living in cities. As it is, many villages are experiencing severe shortage of farm labor, constraining the use of farm machinery.  But where will they go for fuel to run them? I feel the electric tractors and other farm machinery will have to be evolved. , and these will be running on electricity generated in the villages from Solar Chimney21.
On more major limiting factor is fresh water. It is said that the water and not the fossil fuel, will be the cause of 3rd world war. Experts like Dr. John Cronin22 feel that our economy is controlled by water and not fossil fuel. Further, he feels that there are many options for Energy source but no option for fresh water. A report in January of 1997 from Stockholm23 indicated that by the year 2025, two-thirds of the world’s people will suffer from water shortages, and the report also noted that the rate of use of fresh water was growing at twice the rate of world population. It is now a common scene to see long Qs before public tap; local governments are spending huge amounts to provide drinking water to its residents, while on the other hand even the sacred rivers are getting polluted.  So much so, many countries and states of USA have already planned to convert sewage water into drinking water.  Most of the rivers are dammed, and yet people in ample rain fed areas, rain water storage is becoming common. But rain water storage will not help in agriculture.  Agriculture uses lion’s share of currently available fresh water. Besides, we tend to forget that processed food also requires huge quantity of fresh water. For example, one cup of Coffee actually needs 120 lit of water, one bottle of bear can be made only after spending 150 lit of water, to grow cotton enough to knit a shit, will require 3000 lit of water. However, over optimistic people like late Julian Simon24, a longtime policy advisor to US Govt., do exist and air ridiculous comments like, “there is no need to worry about shortage Copper, we can make it from other metals”.  We are exploiting every source of fresh water on earth, wells, bore wells, and many other sources, some of which can’t be replenished.  Many say desalination of sea water is the answer, but it is a highly energy intensive and costly process and we cannot hope to get adequate amount of water for our activities especially agriculture. Fortunately, nature provides us with lot of fresh water in the form of rain, but not enough to cleanse the rivers we are polluting. We are yet to learn to make wise use of rain water. Similarly it is becoming clear that first grade ores are getting depleted, and what would be available for our next generation is only second or third grade ores.
There is one more important aspect to be considered, the Exponential growth of population, the root cause of most of the preset problems and the very subject of this essay.  Better living standards, modern medicine and food have increased the life span of us humans.  We have practically eliminated most of the negative population controls. Excessive greed and flare for comfort has resulted in Global Warming which threatens mass extinction of other species on which we are totally dependent.   This exponential growth of human populations has led to steady degradation of living standards as well as environment.  Our numbers have grown from 6 billion to 7 billion in just about 12 years. There are clear indications of over population – like starvation deaths and increase in poverty. It is estimated that there are over 50 million poor people in US too. Added to this, we have several of miseries, social such as congestion, Wars as well as environmental like Global Warming, pollution, threatening not just the humans but the very life on earth.  
Our development strategies are aimed at speedy growth, it looks like our policy makers are totally unaware of mathematical phenomena - the exponential factor - ruling such growth patterns. May be they do but do not wish to abide by it for the fear of losing job. Legend has it that it was an Indian wizard who invented the Chaduranga - the Chess, and   illustrated the power of exponential. Albert Bartlett explains the phenomena taking Bacteria for example. Bacteria divide once an hour. So if we take just two bacteria in a bottle, they will start dividing into 2, then 4 and so on, and one minute before twelve? They would have filled just half a bottle.    Much later Malthus and others applied this concept of exponential, independently of course, to populations and had warned the civilization of the population bomb waiting to explode if the local Governments do not take suitable precautions.  This exponential factor affects other aspects of life as well. For example, in India, the planning commission is chasing a target of 8% growth, which means the growth would be almost double within 8.75 years, that is, India would require double the amount of resources now being used.   Resource crunch is already being felt in several spheres of activities, especially the power sector, clearly indicating that it would be difficult to maintain the activities even at present rate.
Every planner is envisaging  10 billion population by 2050 and planning for it, but I feel the focus should be on  avoid reaching  this unsustainable number  through education and family planning  strategies. All the countries of the World, including India should try and do this.  But many a leading Economists, though prepared to accept  facts like  peaking of fossil fuels, prevalent mal-nutrition and starvation and the like, refrain from commenting on number of people this plant can support and harp on the idea that world can still support many more billions of people.  Though there are many apprehensions regarding multiple  requirements of people, like food, water, shelter, and at least some modern amenities, all of which require space and energy in huge proportion, which at present is being derived from fossil fuels. Many peg their hopes on Biofuels, but huge area of land is required to produce enough biofuel.  For example, to run cars of a city like Hyderabad, entire Telugu Desam land will be required to grow the required crop14. Then there is the use of machines to plough, harvest, crush, distill the fuel; one expert indicates that we may end up spending more energy in production than what we get as final product13. In such a situation, it is heartening to note that many  European countries have resolved to meet all their energy requirements through alternate sources by 20508.  

So I wonder, if the Ladies of the Word, irrespective of creed and caste,  will decide to have only one child in their life time, thinking as to why add another innocent soul to already troubled world, this planet may be a better place to live in couple of years..

Many  prominent economists feel that elevating poverty will automatically reduce population growth; may be, they feel that the poor have no other better work than to engage in the – primordial  entertainment contributing directly to population growth. Interestingly, history25 tells us that 18th century elite French women decided to have just two children, and this model was followed by the people of other strata. Today many celebrities have set a new trend of adopting children. We also note that many a parents wish to have only one child. So I wonder if the Ladies of the World, irrespective of creed and caste,  will decide to have only one child in their life time, thinking as to why add another innocent soul to already troubled world . This strategy would  drastically reduce the population to a sustainable level in  a short time. Over the years, women of various parts of the world have taken the lead in Environmental protection – the Ecofeminism is a movement to reckon with, so if they decide, situation can improve. Such a decision will enable democratic countries to reduce their populations without any difficulties.

 Who is benefited by the population boom? It is the Industries and Trade and of course politicians.  But it is not a sustainable proposition, the divide between rich and poor will widen and this may lead to a severe confrontation when the limit of patience exceeds, in fact the indication to this effect are already there. Naxal movement in India, and revolt against the local Governments in many parts of world,  and even the latest Wall Street March, are some of the glaring and prominent pointers. But “More the merrier” is the patent formula of Industries as they are immensely benefited by increase in populations - more customers -more profits. This is temporary phenomena, they know, but as long as it goes, amass wealth at the cost of gullible. 
Planet Kepler 22b
Many an optimists are dreaming of discovering other habitable planets, and or colonizing the Sea as has been projected in some of the Science fiction films. But there are several odds; migration of people from crowded to less crowded areas on this plant itself has been rendered difficult with so many restrictions, making it difficult even to think about even distribution of people on this earth. So if at all a new planet is discovered, who is to colonize it?  But in the first place how close are these ‘habitable planets’? 

The one which has been discovered recently and lot of hype made about it, the Kepler 22b is 600 light years away, Gliese 581e, is much closer, just about 20 light years away ! but that is an incredible distance to travel at present.
It is fairly a well accepted fact that the population of developed countries is responsible for faster depletion of resources and responsible for aggravating   Ozone hole,  global warming and associated phenomena –because their consumption rate is 30% more than global average. But it does not mean that increase in number of people in less developed countries are not contributing to the problem. Each human being does impact the environment, and the extent, of course depends on development status. More the development higher will be the impact. Thus there is an urgent need to estimate number of humans that earth can support.  Human activities have already caused great change in the global environment.  May26 observes that "..the scale and scope of human activities have, for the first time, grown to rival the natural processes that built the biosphere and that maintain it as a place where life can flourish" . Whether the growth is smart or dumb, the growth destroys the environment13.
(A bang on resources, should we survive like this)

Now you will ask me what could be answer for the question raised in the title itself.  I am surprised that many who have deliberated on issue, for or against, seem to be conveniently avoiding presenting a plausible number.  In the famous video on “How many people can live on this planet  ...” Sir David Attenbourough10, wonders “can our intelligence save us?”  (How many people can live on Planet Earth –BBC Horizon (HD)

Now you will ask me what could be answer for the question raised in the title itself.  I am surprised that many who have deliberated on issue, for or against, seem to be conveniently avoiding presenting a plausible number.  In the famous video on “How many people can live on this planet  ...” Sir David Attenbourough10, wonders “can our intelligence save us?”  (How many people can live on Planet Earth –BBC Horizon (HD)

More number of people would only mean congestion, inequality and suffering, leading to tension. It would then become essential to cut more forests, look for more pastures,  faster depletion of resources like fresh water, minerals, fossil fuels, more human – wildlife conflicts, and finally conflicts between societies. All of these problems are caused by population growth, and none of these problems can be “solved” if population growth continues. The series of big city riots of the recent decades are symptoms of a deep-seated illness, injustice and inequity that we have ignored too long

In fact the proliferation of humans on this planet runs parallel to spread of Cancer. We have occupied every habitat, depleting resources, spewing pollutants, killing the very life supporting system.
The illness is certainly made worse by the rapid population growth that consumes public and private resources in order to give generous returns to investors, with minimal benefits going to help the low income people who are adversely affected by the growth. The public financial resources that are needed to pay the costs of population growth come at the expense of all manner of community programs that are essential for improving education, justice, and equity. Injustice and inequity breed unrest and discontent. When a condition of instability is reached, things can happen with surprising speed.
What answer do we have for our future generations on these issues? Club of Rome suggested a population size of 6 billion. Earlier to that David Pimental27, estimated that maximum number of people that Earth can support is 1.5 to 2 billion, while Erlich 28   gave a figure of just about 500 million. In India we are now 1.2 billion people that would be an average of 0.1 hectares per person, while area required for an average Americas is pegged at 10 hectares per person.  From Rio convention and back to Rio, we see that people of developed countries are not willing to reduce their consumption rate.
How many people can the Earth support? Total terrestrial area of Earth is about 14.8 billion hectares, of this for human use we can only consider 50% at the maximum, balance for the nature to take care of us. That leaves us with 7.4 billion hectares of land.  So at 5 hectares per person, earth can support just about 1.50 billion people, and at 10 hectares per person,  a very comfortable limit, just about 0.75 billion people can live happily on this planet.  
This does not mean end of innovations, super markets, flashy cars or super robots.  Each citizen can still enjoy all the modern gadgetry, projector TVs or HD TVs, all Electric cars, safer and better Airplanes if not jets, good food – milk, meat, vegetables and cereals.  In fact if we are careful and plan right from now, we can recreate paradise of Earth. We can still dream of travelling around the world, visiting the natural or human made wonders, clean and green power generating industries, also places like Rwanda where ethnic clashes resulted in massacre of over million people in just three months.  
Will the ladies of the world decide to have just one child till and help to reach a sustainable population level of say 1.5 billion? Will the citizens of the world decide to limit their activity within 5 hectors?  Can this planet be converted to Paradise?  I am not sure. Am I hopeful that this article of mine will impress at least some of the policy makers, or the public in general? I would be happiest person if it did, though the ideas depicted here are not new –but may be put together in one place.
Astrologers had predicted a major natural disaster by the end of 2012, while Astronomers forecasted a devastating Mass Coronal Ejection in mid-2013. If these predictions do not transpire, we still can’t be off guard.  Life on earth would still be under threat. Effects of human made maladies like Global Warming, Ozone hole, pollution, peaking of fossil fuels, recessions in developed countries, ever growing populations and dwindling resources, Nuclear wastes, terrorism, all seem to be converging to a anthropogenic catastrophe in the near future. 

Eshavasya Upanishad
Micheal Ruppert
 Club of Rome
30 years after Club of Rome
Odum E.P.,
Seven Cullis Suzuki – Girl who silenced the World 
Doug Hamilton (in ref 10)
Ramachandra T V.,
Albert Barlett
Sagar Dhara
Molly Brown
Green Peace
Bruce Sandquist
A. Kent MacDougall          
Jorg Schaich
John Cronius
Stockholm Report
Julian Simon
Ref to French ladies

Dr. Ashok Kundapur,  Ph.D.
Environment & Energy Activist ,
International Solar Cooker Expert,

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Food Security - an impossible scheme?

Last week the government of India passes a landmark bill – ‘The Food Security Act’. As per its provisions, the government guarantees that each of the nation’s citizens has enough food to sustain upon. All throughout the world, every government tries to achieve food security for its citizens. Food security is also closely linked to internal security. The recent Arab Spring conflicts have been directly linked to a shortage of wheat in the area.  Food security is the ultimate decider of internal stability, good economy and a progressive environment in any country. Today as every country tries to catch up with each other in this mad race called ‘development’, they are increasingly pursuing the agenda of providing sufficient food for all citizens. But this mad race is also one of the primary reasons for a larger problem – global warming. So the question today we must all ask is – will global warming impact our food security?

The scientific projects made today linking crop output to climate change vary. Nevertheless there exists strong empirical evidence that a rise in temperature would reduce the protein content in staple foods like rice and wheat. Studies also suggest that further increase in temperatures would completely shut down fruit production by plants. Not just veggies, even the meat industry would be drastically affected because fodder on which this industry runs is an agricultural produce. A number of factors have been identified to have a decisive role in deciding the quality and quantity of crop output.

Global warming would result in unpredictable changes in local weather patterns. Food production by plants depends on a variety of factors, most important of which is the right weather. All plants are seasonal in their activities. They shed their leaves, produce flowers, and produce fruit – all during different climatic conditions. Global warming would cause sudden unpredictable changes such as long spells of dry weather followed by sudden heavy downpour. Such incriminating weather patterns would wreak havoc amongst the plants, who would be confused and may prematurely shed leaves, produce fruit etc.
Climate change would result in changes in wind / ocean currents and precipitation patterns. This would result in changes in the water availability and soil salinity, both of which would damage the crops. Crops would also be damaged due to an increase in the occurrences of flash floods, cyclones (hurricanes) and landslides.
Human suffering as a result of decreasing food security caused by climate change has already started. The sudden rise in global food prices in 2008, only shows that our food crops are increasingly at risk of uncertain weather patterns.  Such spikes in food prices will only increase in the years to come.
As governments throughout the world rush in to counter short term inflation in food prices, they are all ignorant about the simple concept linking climate change and food output. India’s ambitious Food Security Act will simply be an impossible plan if the government does not initiate steps aimed at countering global warming.

Every government knows that is at stake, but simply chooses to ignore the fact and carry on with their business as usual attitude. In Europe however there is an increasing awareness amongst the governments to take steps aimed at mitigating climate change. When will our government awaken? Or is this ambitious food security plans a simple mirage?

We the people are the losers. We cannot sit silently and watch. It’s time we question them and their policies. Wake up!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Your health and climate change

There is a lot of noise these days about global warming and how it threatens to annihilate the human race. There are also numerous versions and theories both supporting and discrediting this. Before this catastrophic event occurs, there would exist a very long process of human suffering and torture at the hands of a merciless nature. If I may ask – what is the one thing that you wish to have till the end? While wealth would definitely be a priority, health would be the most important one. Good health brings happiness and happiness is the healthiest of human emotions. So before climate change wipes out our race, what suffering has it got at stake for us?

Global warming as the term suggests is causing an increase in the average surface temperature of the earth. Warmer surface temperatures would result in a variety of ill effects affecting people of all ages alike. A prolonged spell of hot weather, with high relative humidity and less cooler nights would induce severe heat related stress on elderly people, leading to death. 
Warmer surface temperatures would also cause an increase in the breeding rates of rodents and pests – which are disease carriers. There would be a decrease in the overall quality of water, as the microorganisms purifying this water would reduce their functioning as a result of a warmer climate. This would lead to an increase in water borne diseases. Warmer atmospheric conditions would result in an increase in ozone production. Ozone in the lower levels of the atmosphere is a pollutant and together with pollen would lead to deadly cases of respiratory diseases amongst the new born and the elderly.
Climate change is also going to influence our health through a number of indirect factors. Topping this list is – natural disasters. Climate change would result in numerous natural calamities often with devastating effects. Changing precipitation patterns coupled with a warmer atmosphere would result in longer dry spells with sudden heavy downpour causing annual flash floods. People living along the coasts would be forced to migrate due to rising sea levels and non-availability of fresh drinking water. People would also be force to relocate due to adverse weather conditions, land slides, earthquakes, increased volcanic activity and food availability. This mass relocation of people would instantly lead to a rise in the number of diseased population.
The second factor is the reduction in the quality of available fresh water. The United Nations Organization estimates that about one third of the world population would be deprived of quality drinking water by 2050. This would result in an increase in the spread of water related diseases. 
Another important factor is food scarcity. Changing soil patterns, failing monsoons, annual flash floods and increase in surface temperatures would result in large-scale crop failure. Lack of adequate food intake would result in further aggravation of the spread of diseases. Finally, scientists claim that there would be a hundred per cent rise in the occurrences of new incurable diseases, many of which (MERS, SARS, H1N5 etc.) are already causing wide spread panic.

The question we need to ask ourselves today is – where are we headed? Is this the future you want to live in? Is the future you want your children to grow up in?

It’s high time we make a choice and chose our alliances. Climate change and its catastrophic effects can be mitigated. A deep thought provoking approach must be initiated by every local and national government for this cause. People must be educated and enlightened. Governments must have a plan for its citizens. If we still chose to be ignorant and consider living foolishly, then we would simply suffer and die a painful death and our children would curse us for the gifts we have given them.

We can change the world! Let’s join together and act! Wake up!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Gifting your child a thirsty future?

As the famous English saying goes – “3 minutes without oxygen, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food”, water without a doubt is the fuel that drives life. From the beginning of time, water has been accorded a very special status by mankind and is considered holy in almost every religion on the face of this earth. But man has changed, so has his attitude. At a time when governments are spending millions searching for water on outer space (thus accepting the fact that water is a giver of life!), we humans along with our governments are simply destroying quality water on earth.

We all learnt in school that water covers most of the surface of the earth, but only a mere 2% of which is potable. Out of this nearly 60% is locked up as ice in mountain glaciers and polar icecaps. The ever increasing global temperatures are forcing these icecaps to fast melt and thus converting even this scarce source of fresh water into salt water. So where are we headed? Is the future going to be thirsty? And who is to blame?
Most of us live in cities and have access to potable water – good quality or not. Most of us are ignorant about the need to intake quality water. Lack of water purification facilities and rampant pollution of underground water (mainly due to poor sewage systems) is adding to these woos. And then there is the problem of unplanned, unethical, selfish and mindless drilling of bore wells. In Bangalore (India’s IT Capital), the depth of the bore wells have increased by nearly 500 feet in the past 5 years alone! The question is how deep can we go? And is there enough water down there?

Did you know that out of the 7 billion people inhabiting the earth, 783 million do not have access of good quality water? Did you know that about 3.4 million people die every year of water related diseases? Did you know that every 21 seconds a child dies due to lack of access of water?

So how is climate change going to worsen the situation? Well for starters, global warming induced sea level rise will reduce the availability of fresh water along the coasts by as much as 50%! (PS: 40% of the world’s population lives along the coasts). Changes in precipitation patterns will further aggravate the situation. Fast receding glaciers and ever decreasing mountain snow-pack would reduce the annual feed of perennial rivers. Failure of monsoons would lead to drought like situations even in areas considered water-rich. Scientists estimate that by 2050 nearly a third of the world’s population would be deprived of quality drinking water. Will I be on that list? Will our children be on that list?

Where are we headed folks? It’s a selfish world we live in and it is high time we wake up do something about it. 
The first question that you need to ask yourself – “Am I gifting my child a thirsty future?” No? Then please join hands and together we can ensure that our kids drink good water. Change begins at home. Be conscious about the use of water and encourage your neighbours to follow suit. But this is not enough. In developing countries like India, the poor sewage systems and lack of water recycling plants are fast reducing the quality of available ground water by mixing of sewage in it. Therefore the need of the hour is to pressurize the government servants and elected representatives into ensuring the purity of the already scarce ground water. Every parent must come together and ensure that the water bodies in their localities are devoid of pollution. Elected representatives must be put to task and questioned when they come begging for votes during the elections. What we need is a revolution like the Arab spring to secure the quality drinking water.
It’s a selfish world we live in, but if we truly love our children, then we cannot afford to be selfish. Change begins at home. Wake up!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Honey - not so sweet?

When you look at a beehive, what is the first thing that crosses your mind? Is it the hunger for free honey? Is the fear of a bee sting? Or is the fascination for these marvelous creatures?
Honey forms an essential part of our diets. Its nutritious and medicinal value has been well documented.  We also have learnt in school about the entire process through which bees make honey available. But is it all for us? And did we ever question, why do these bees store the honey? These questions I leave it to you, because today I want to confront you with another, more difficult question – What role do honey bees play in nature?

Albert Einstein, one of the greatest physicists of all time, famously claimed – “If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live”. Of course back then no one took him seriously, especially because he was famous for making huge claims, which were often proven false. But in this particular case, Einstein was one hundred per cent right.  Honey bees are the single most influential creatures that hold the keys to human life.
Honey bees extract honey from flowers and in the process help the plant in completing the process of pollination. Nearly one third of the global farm output depends on pollination, mostly by bees. About thirty five per cent of the calories, most of the minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants in our daily meals are obtained from foods, whose production needs pollination by bees. Virtually every fruit and vegetable you enjoy needs pollination by bees. And yet bees are disappearing at an alarming rate – either by being killed by humans or through the process of colonial collapse disorder. But no one seems to care. After all, for a busy man like me, do bees matter?

But the simple fact is that whether we like it or not – bees matter. I had a chat with a friend of mine who owns a coffee plantation. Most planters do not share their troubles or problems with the world outside. But this lady chose to give me a rare look into their grievances. Their problem – a steep drop in coffee production due to lack of cross pollination by bees. She exclaimed and I quote – “There are no bees left!”
The bee crisis has not been accorded a much alarming status as of now, but the UN's food index rating sums it all. Globally food availability has decreased and food prices are at an all-time high. Where food is available in plenty, quality of this food is the cause of concern. Will food security soon be a thing of the past?

Where are we headed? And what are our reactions? Do we care? In my opinion, it is high time we start giving a damn about this problem. Our big bank balances or large properties won’t assure us / our children food. Nor can we / our children go about eating money! It is time we rise and act. Join hands in protecting the bees. Educate your neighbours and prevent them from burning down beehives. In this way, you are securing food for your children.

We live in a selfish world, but we can always work towards a change. Change begins at home. Think about your children and grandchildren. Preserve and protect nature. Remember – it starts from your own backyard.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Oh foolish man!

We live in a time of uncertainty and imbalance. An unstable currency, price rise, instability, poor governance – all these could make one feel as though these are troubled times. On the brighter side we are in the golden space age. Sci-Fi movies of the seventies are turning out to into reality. Technological advances have certainly made our lives comfortable and certainly very complicated. The internet boom, the reduced commuting times, smart phones, faster computers, smart gadgets – all seem to have come as gift from the almighty himself.

We live in an age where anything that is smarter, faster and better is acknowledged and the rest discarded. Our obsession with this new age philosophy has also reflected on our demands for better health. It is after all common understanding that a good health is an integral part of a good life. I spoke to my grand mother a few days ago with the intension of understanding the health situation during her days as a young adult. I was surprised to learn that they enjoyed a healthier childhood than the one we had, even with poor sanitation and low food availability.

Human health can be easily regarded as one of the most important priorities of mankind and the total monetary expenditure in this sector can only be matched by defense. Billions of dollars are invested every year on healthcare research and yet as the day passes by – we are in a more insecure health situation. The basic question we can then ask is – why?

Our grandparents and our parents were brought up in an environment which was pristine. The low pollution levels, good quality food and water, favorable temperatures – made their childhoods memorable. The situation has however drastically changed in the last twenty years! I pity the kids born today!
The high levels of pollution welcome them into this earth offering them gifts of respiratory illnesses; they grow up into an uncertain future of sudden climatic changes and unpredictable weather patterns. Their lives would be miserable!

It’s a foolish world we are a part of, and we are equally ignorant. I have a beehive on the ceiling of my third floor apartment balcony. The moment the other tenants in the apartment complex noticed it – they saw free honey; their immediate reaction – burn it down. Even after my repeated attempts to make them understand the importance of bees to maintain the natural cycle of life, they were unrelenting. This standoff continues to the day. Introspecting on their replies, I was convinced that this generation of young adults / parents has either become extremely heartless or is just ignorantly stubborn.

I would go with the fact that most of us are ignorant. But the situation warrants that we must open our eyes and act. Global climatic changes would drastically affect our lives and those of our children. No parent amongst us would want to gift his / her child an uncertain future. We do a lot of sacrifices for our children - most notably by building a strong monetary system to support them. But we never pause to think about the basic necessities that would be required for their survival - good food, clean air and pure water. If you are a parent reading this, I am sure you have now understood what is at stake. Educate yourself first, then your neighbor.
Spread the word and save the world!
It’s a foolish world we live in. You can opt to make it less foolish!
Let greed not destroy us,
Wake up!